Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Letter to Kurt Vonnegut

I mailed this off to Kurt Vonnegut in November of 2006. I can't be sure whether he received it, but reading it now I'm damned glad that I sat down and wrote it.

Andrew Archer
San Francisco, CA 94123
November 16, 2006
Kurt Vonnegut
c/o Donald C. Farber
Jacob Medinger & Finnegan, LLP
1270 Avenue of the Americas, Rockerfeller Center
New York, NY 10020

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

I think you will enjoy this coincidence: I, too, was a student of Chemistry at Cornell University and my father, like yours, was an architect. Perhaps this makes you and I, your father and mine, merely ‘granfalloons,’ but I would prefer to think of us all as members of one ‘karass.’

One thing is for certain: I have enjoyed the hell out of what you’ve put into your books.

Because I savor your words and admire you so greatly, a girl that I love sought out your correspondence address and gave it to me, hoping I would write you. So here is that letter: an adoring piece of mail from a member of your grandchildren’s generation.

I must have grown up in a shoebox, for I did not I discover your books until two years ago. I was twenty-two and I was baking small batches of inedible, white powders in Ithaca, New York. Truly, I had had it up to my eyeballs with the study of chemicals and with snow. So I was on the verge of quitting Cornell myself when I came upon Cat’s Cradle.

I ate up Bokononism, your gentle iconoclasm, and your resigned, fatalistic sense of humor. The novel spoke to me in a familiar language. It hummed and whistled as if it had been written it for my audience alone, which is, I now realize, the trademark of your style.

After reading many of your other novels and wandering through mazes of your well-constructed mousetraps, I’d like to tell you that the lens I have on the world has been refocused. At twenty-four, I suddenly appreciate my life as an adventure, and I find an identity as a humanist: sensitive to and fascinated by morality in human existence.

After earning my Master’s Degree in August, and with no intention of working in a laboratory again, I set off to California and have since started writing. I doubt that the prose will amount to much, but damned if it isn’t nice to read something I’m proud to have written.

If I may, I’d like to suggest one amendment to your observation that most great writers have been alcoholics, as you state in your book, Fates Worse Than Death. I believe that many great writers (you might include yourself in this lot) have also smoked cigarettes. Who could have better perspective on life, after all, than a smoker taking frequent breaks from it to light up outside?

I do not smoke. No one lit up near me when I was an impressionable twelve years old, or I probably would have. Thanks to your work, though, I do aspire to write fiction. I guess if it ever finds its way into print I will discredit my own theory.
I suppose an American politician will never assign his constituents new middle names, unite them under one egalitarian religion, or ensure each some enduring, purposeful employment. Entropy, and the conceit of individuals – as you’ve called them: ‘winners’ – will prevent our large society from achieving that kind of utopian order. Even so, I wish that a candidate would run for an influential office on your platforms, or at least keep your morals in mind while governing. We could easily do worse.

What you have accomplished, in any event, is to affect thousands of individuals like myself – Elliot Rosewaters, if you will – which might truly be the best you could have hoped to do.

Should I not hear back from you, let me say this: Thank you for sharing your visions. They are comforts from a wise friend.

Best Wishes,
Andrew Archer

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ode to San Francisco

This city's air fills my chest as warm coffee. To inhale is to take a deep sip of delicious, aromatic drink.

That there might be any greater pleasure than to walk its streets on a sunny Sunday morning, I shall forever doubt.

There is a smile on the visage of every passer-by, as they jog, or bike, or perambulate along the charactered walkways. Gulls hover overhead - or sit patiently on the stone walls by the Bay; their sea-stained feathers match the white splotched rocks. They look at home as chameleons on tree-bark.

There is an encapsulating fog that masks the tops of the two pylons on the Golden Gate. It bounds the love radiating from the most beautiful city on earth.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Who's Now, CUFF?

Football season will soon be starting once again; you know what that means...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why 'The Myopic Manifesto'?

For one thing, the title alliterates, but you and I know that is no explanation.

At once, I say the blog is 'myopic' to admit I have no long term vision for the material and opinions I express here. The entries that appear are merely an accumulation of observations on a stage as eminent as a playground.

When I begin to write on this page usually I have a foggy understanding of just what I will write. So, you coul say I conduct this whole writing enterprise with a dimness of vision that might be called myopic.

Finally, I thought 'myopic' a fitting descriptor for a novice's writings, which is to say: naïvely dire and biassed by immediacy.

I thought myopic sounded swell with manifesto. And since a manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy - it fits pretty snuggly. I realize that in the wake of Ted Kaczynski's famous 'manifesto' the word also tends to connote the doctrine of a beraved person. But I assure you, I am more or less sane.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hairy Business

When I finished college, my age caught up with me. As if my body could know its greatest years were behind it - and had no further interest in esthetic preservation - it began to discard hair as though it were ballast from a sinking balloon.

I was in Europe, visiting my sister in Paris not a week after graduation when I began spotting strands on my pillow each morning and on my towels after showers. In a matter of days the hair on my head thinned to the point I could no longer shape it with but a few, hapless passes of my fingers. Instead, I'd meticulously push hair this way and that until it rested in that Euclidean perfection required to hide fleshy veins of scalp left wantonly exposed by this effluvium of hair.

I supposed many superstitious explanations for my misfortune. Among the causes I scapegoated were: the alkalinity of parisian water, high pressure exerted by the showerhead, stress from an oversees plane ride, and my travel-sized bottle of Pert Plus™.

I had never before used a combined shampoo and conditioner.

It's unintuitive, I know, but the most outlandish explanations become the most credible at the height of panic. When one goes completely blotto with worry, the fantastic becomes so ponderously imponderable that its weightiness proves as inescapable as the gravitation of a black hole. And so, one comes to rely, resignedly, on the most unreasonable explanation at hand with the crooked inevitability of weighted dice.

I believed Pert Plus was making me lose my hair.

To this day I cannot be certain that I was guessed wrong. I bought a bottle of another shampoo at a chemist at the first chance I found. Within days there was no further loss of hair to speak of.

Do I really think a shampoo and conditioner tandem caused my hair loss?

No. It seems equally likely that an allergic reaction to turtles, a momentary alignment of the planets, or a series of malicious visits from a Burmese Nat caused hair to precipitate from my head.

Could the hair loss have come from the stress? Since I stopped losing the hair and seem to have regained some of it, I think it more likely.

Eighty-five percent of hair on a healthy human scalp is growing at any given time.* The other fifteen percent is dormant, or in the 'rest' phase.* Dormant hair is poised to fall out within three months, and knew hair will typically take its place.* When one is under stress, much more of his/her hair (up to 70%!) will enter the dormant phase.* Inevitably, all this hair gets the boot within three months. Provided all stressors are removed (and how likely is that by the way?), the hair will reappear within a year's time.*

I can't recall what incubus, if any, would have prompted such unusually high levels of stress some months before graduation. Perhaps it was the job-search or a series of mid-term exams. It's probably best for my present health that those stressors remain forgotten.

I likely won't know what made so much of my hair abandon me that summer, I'm thankful some of it stayed the course. I don't think Pert Plus had anything to do with the problem - but I'll tell you this - you won't get me to use it again!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Purpose of Life

In the following 50 lines I'll explain (and then refute) the purpose of life, as I see it.

As one who tries to base his beliefs on evidence, I cannot *yet* accept the faith-fueled hypotheses that life exists for any profound intentions such as those that would be appointed to it by a supernatural force. Thus, aside from life's obvious proximate objective, to perpetuate itself, I can think of only one other objective that the biochemical process of life aspires to, and it is also a proximate objective.

In three words, it is this: to oppose entropy.

So that my rhetorical explanation will be as lucid as possible, I'll display it as numbered points:
(1) The total entropy (disorder) of the universe increases according to the second law of thermodynamics.
(2) Events which create entropy are driven to occur spontaneously (e.g. gasses expand, large molecules combust and splinter into smaller ones, buildings crumble, stars burst in supernovae).
(3) A life-form is constructed through a large number of highly ordered biological processes (e.g. a life-form is created when DNA begets RNA, which produces proteins that constitute cells).
(4) A life-form endeavors to bring order into the system around it (large molecules are made in cells, muscles allow the construction buildings, nerves - the authorship of books and the chemical transmutation of ore to iron).
(5) Life removes entropy from the universe, Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Convinced? You shouldn't be. Now that I've built a case for entropy feeding life with a purpose, permit me to rip the very foundation of that argument to shreds.

Ask yourself: Do the achievements of life forms actually slow the increase in the total entropy of the universe? The very processes of respiration which endow biological entities with the energy to "create order" (which I defined as anything from the synthesis of complex molecules to the construction of tall buildings) themselves contribute entropy. In the case of flora, energy derived in photosynthesis emanates from fusion processes on the star, which also contribute to the increase in entropy of the universe.

Also, I'm also way off base using the term 'entropy' to describe macroscopic phenomenon. The second law of thermodynamics refers to entropy only as an increase in the number of accessed microstates for an individual molecule*, not a decline in the order of aggregates of material that could be found in building collapses or supernovae. So the whole argument is bunkum anyway.

From what we can see of the vast immutable space that constitutes the universe outside of this small, life-containing bubble, it seems that life has not constituted (and will not constitute) more than a modicum of influence on the events inside of it. In light of this understanding, it seems that propositions of any ultimate purposes for life itself are necessarily fruitless, silly undertakings. I promise to refrain from here out, and address much more specific dialectics.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Post-Season

Should I ever deny I was addicted to NFL football, the following evidence will ultimately confound me.

I am in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where the hotel's internet clicks along at a snail's pace. It is shortly after six in the morning local time - many hours before dawn, but I've been up for hours already listening to an internet radio broadcast of the NFL's divisional play-off games. My heart is racing as my New Orleans Saints trail the Philadelphia Eagles 21-13 at the half.

My knees are bouncing, my fists are clenched, I have a small seizure with every play small or large. What does this game have that keeps my heart on a leash?

My alarm sounded at 4:45 A.M, but I didn't feel tired at all. My mouth was watering, my adrenaline pumping. There was no chance I'd keep sleeping.

I had to ask myself... Why don't have this kind of passion for other things?!

I wish I could wake up for work with this sort of enabling energy - or find a hobby to shock me out of bed in the morning the way that this NFL play-off match-up does. I am afraid the reality might be that this habit has monopolized all of the nerves in the pleasure-sensing dopamine-circuit of my brain. I am hooked on football like a fish on a line.

Go Saints!